Set Up Your E-Commerce Store in a Weekend
The information you need to launch an expandable, profitable e-commerce site in a matter of days, not weeks or months.
1 – Start Here
About Ezra Firestone
The authors of this Execution Plan relied heavily on the e-commerce trainings of Ezra Firestone. Ezra Firestone is the co-creator of the revolutionary Brown Box Formula – a fully proven training program that gives users a concrete method to create, manage and dominate Amazon.com and other e-commerce marketplaces. Ezra runs a private network of e-commerce websites and regularly consults for companies across the U.S and Canada. He is also the founder and creative director of SmartMarketer, an information hub for do-it-yourself entrepreneurs. Ezra’s e-commerce and online businesses have given him the freedom of resources needed to help his community through non-profit work. As the head of We Are Family Manhattan, an all-volunteer, no cost of administration non-profit organization, Ezra organizes the re-distribution of surplus goods and food to those in need.
Try and remember a time when an entire shopping experience (outside of grabbing your morning coffee) was conducted offline. As much as we all want to believe the 1990s were just “10 years ago,” e-commerce is no longer a luxury, or even a secondary part of most businesses. The reality is that anyone looking to sell today needs to establish an online store.
And, those who haven’t yet done so are WOEFULLY behind the times.
Despite a bad economy, the average growth of e-commerce is roughly 25% per year. For small business owners, this is even more dramatic, as those who maintain a Web presence can, on average, attribute nearly 30% of their profits from online sales.
But, statistics aside, the real beauty of having an online store is just how easy it is use. You don’t need to be a major retailer or online giant or succeed in online sales. You just need a shop, products to sell, and the drive and know-how to bring customers to your site.
In this Execution Plan, we have provided a thorough video and text roadmap to walk you through the process of building your very own e-commerce site. Assisting us in this Execution Plan will be Ezra Firestone, a proven e-commerce superstar, with countless successful sites to his name. He has consulted some of the world’s top companies on building, operating and evolving their e-commerce platforms to unprecedented new heights.
And now, he’s sharing his training with you. On these pages, you will learn:
- How easy it is to establish and incorporate a business
- Our secrets for naming your shop
- Step-by-step details for setting up a store customers will notice
- How to set up your merchant accounts so your store is ready to go
- The products and services Ezra uses to build his own wildly successful online shops
- The inside scoop on selling via Amazon.com
- How to build comprehensive analytics and tracking to learn what’s working, and where your profit comes from
- Customization tips to ensure your site is easy to use, building trust with buyers
- Best practices for setting up product pages, category pages and meta descriptions
- How to build out additional information pages that improve user experience
- How to integrate your social profiles to maximize your store’s exposure
The title of this Execution Plan is “Set Up Your E-Commerce Store in a Weekend.” It might sound far-fetched, but if you adhere to the process and follow-through steps detailed in this Execution Plan, you’ll have the information you need to launch a functional, expandable e-commerce site that is just ripe with possibility for success.
Make no mistake – it’s a lot of work. But after your site is launched, your options are endless. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.
Markets and Products
Many of you interested in this Execution Plan already have an existing products business that you’re interested in taking online. Many others will already have a particular idea of what kind of products you want to sell, or at least what market you’d like to be in. If so, we still recommend taking this step to see how your planned or existing products stack up on Ezra’s Market Criteria Checklist.
If not, don’t worry! Watch the following How To Find Market Ideas video:
For additional information about the Market Criteria Checklist, see Ezra’s in depth explanation of the checklist in the Challenge Day 6 video listed in the Bonus: Brown Box Formula Challenge step.
2 – Initial Setup
Setting Up Your Initial Accounts
Before we can get to the business of building your e-commerce store, you need to have all the pieces in place. While much of this process may seem redundant or even self-explanatory, it’s important that you set up your accounts the right way the first time through, so you don’t have to come back and rework your settings at a later date.
You’ll be too busy selling products to deal with that.
NOTE: The specific look and particular deals offered by web services companies change frequently. After the video you’ll find updated links where applicable and direct links to support documentation for setting up services.
Setting up a PayPal account
Chances are, you’re familiar with PayPal. Whether you’ve purchased something from eBay, or accepted payment for services rendered, PayPal has become a leading financial force in online commerce. That being said, you will likely want to create a separate business PayPal account before attaching it to your new online store.
Phone Number from Ringcentral.com
RingCentral is inbound call management that lets users stay in touch and in control of their communications. By providing users with a single local or toll free main number, RingCentral connects a business’s staff by assigning their existing phone numbers to different virtual extension numbers.
Company from Incorporate.com
Many small business owners launch their companies as sole proprietorships in which they and their businesses are essentially the same. However, changing the format of a small business to a corporation or a Limited Liability Company (LLC) can offer a range of advantages for entrepreneurs.
Merchant Account from TakeCardsToday
We have had considerable success using TakeCardsToday.com for a free, easily obtainable merchant account.(NOTE: In this execution plan, we’re recommending Bigcommerce as your ecommerce platform – Bigcommerce currently recommends the Stripe service to accept payments for stores who expect less than $100k in sales during the first year.)
Keep in mind, you will need to go through an application process prior to setting up your TakeCardsToday account, but the restrictions are certainly flexible enough to accommodate almost any type of online business, as long as you’re 18 years of age, a US resident, and selling legal products.
Additionally, the service offers rush processing for many applicants, so you can be operational in hours or days, not weeks or longer.
In order to benefit from Google’s Adwords, Analytics, Merchant Center, goal setting and tracking and more, you’ll need to establish a Google user account that is specific to your store. Do not use a personal account for this, as it will produce skewed results and less targeted analytics for your purposes.
Our friends at BigCommerce have developed a very thorough guide on establishing a Google account.
UPS Shipping Account
Domain Name from GoDaddy
Click Here to search and purchase domains from GoDaddy.
You can also use a service like Trademarkia to search among existing trademarks and logos to check availability.
Naming Your eBusiness
In the previous video, we briefly covered how to select a strong domain name, as its goal is to attract potential customers. Choosing the name of your e-commerce store doesn’t have to be difficult, but it’s vital you get it right.
A domain name is often the same as the registered company name. But if your company name is already taken, try creating something similar.
For example, if www.widgetstore.com is already taken, perhaps www.widgetsuperstore.com might be the next best match.
Do not worry about loading the domain name with keywords or superfluous terms. Just make sure it clearly states what users are going to find within your pages.
The domain name should be:
- Easy to remember
- Clear about what your business does
- Easy to spell
- Able to make an instant impression
- Easy to find – potential customers will be using search engines to find your store
Registering your domain name is simple. Many independent companies offer this service, or you can register via an Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Most importantly, always check the terms and conditions. Make sure you retain the right to move to an alternative domain host if the need arises.
Amazon is, quite simply, the largest global retail marketplace, and you should be listed there. You would be ignoring a significant portion of the market if you choose to not be a part of it. Additionally, it is a place to quickly list your products while building out the rest of your site.
The following video details the registration process, but we have also provided the “Selling on Amazon Getting Started Guide” which offers a comprehensive view of how to get set up selling on Amazon, including a handy startup checklist, and detailed information on:
- Preparing your product information
- Listing your products on Amazon
- Account settings and seller profile(s)
- Selling tips and advice
Click Here to download the Amazon Getting Started Guide.
Watch this video for a step-by-step walkthrough of adding an existing product to your Amazon account:
3 – Build Your Store
Setting Up and Building Your Store
Alright, now we’re getting to the meat and potatoes of the Execution Plan. You’ve got products to sell. You have an audience in mind. You’ve set up your accounts. You’re ready to start building your e-commerce site.
Though there are a number of enterprise-level e-commerce platforms currently vying to be the top provider to businesses – such as Volusion, Highwire, Izzonet, as well as open-source offerings like Magento, osCommerce and more – we have found this program works best with Bigcommerce.
While the obvious connections to SecureNet make Bigcommerce a strong choice for your needs, the platform also offers a number of advantages, as highlighted in the interview below.
Watch the video below with Ezra at the Bigcommerce offices to learn more about a number of advantages the platform offers:
In this tutorial, we’ll show you just to get started on Bigcommerce. Ezra goes into painstaking detail about the nuances of creating a store in the following video, so be sure to watch it before attempting to build your storefront.
Don’t worry, you can change your store name at a later time, if you want.
When you create your store, use the Bigcommerce Quick Start Wizard to get things set up:
Click the blue “Let’s customize your store” button. The first screen within the Wizard asks you to complete important details about your store.
Click “Update your store settings” to update your store name. You’ll also be asked for the address, phone number and administrator email address for your store.
Step #5: Choose your theme
The next stage in the Quick Launch Wizard is to choose your theme and Logo. You’ll be taken to the area in the Bigcommerce dashboard where you can change your theme, or template. Scroll down to look at the different templates available.
At the top of the themes page is a list of tabs. Click “Logo.” You’ll be taken to a page where you can choose to upload your business logo.
To upload a logo, select the option “Upload a logo image from my computer.” Then click “Choose File.” This will open your file manager, where you can browse for your logo. Once you’ve found your logo, click “Upload Logo Image.”
The recommended logo size is 250×100 pixels.
Connect Your Domain
After you have purchased a domain name from a domain name registrar then it is a common practice to point the name servers to the server which hosts your website. This is commonly referred to as “managing the name servers.”
If you have been following this Execution Plan, you already went to GoDaddy to purchase a domain name. GoDaddy is both your domain name registrar and the web host who has control over your name servers. If you are looking to point the domain name to Bigcommerce then you need to make that change from within your GoDaddy account.
Watch as Ezra goes through this process:
NOTE: The specific look and arrangement of some menu items at Bigcommerce have changed since the time of this recording.
If you’ve had any difficult locating the necessary menus to connect your domain servers to your Bigcommerce account, see the following support articles:
Implementing Analytics and Webmaster Tools
Google Analytics is a free service offered by Google that allows you access to detailed statistics about your website’s traffic. It will show you important information that will help you be more effective in marketing your store to your target audience online.
After successfully setting up Google Analytics with your store you will know:
- How many people are viewing your website (daily, weekly, monthly)
- What pages they are viewing
- What search engine/website from which they were referred
- What your conversion rate is. (The conversion rate is determined by the ratio between your sales and visitors.)
Setting Up Google Analytics
Set Customizations, Sitemaps and Initial Product Setup
BigCommerce provides you with an auto-generated sitemap that contains all of your products, categories, and webpages. You can access the site map by going to Marketing > Google XML Sitemap
Watch this Bigcommerce University video to learn more:
Submitting Your Sitemap to Google
Setting up Page Titles
A page title is one of the most important on-page ranking factors and should be treated with care. Your page title tag shows up in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). Search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing use the title tag found within your page’s HTML code as the search results’ title for that page.
Some tips for titling your pages:
- Google implements penalties for titles that are obviously designed to heavily feature keywords. Doing so (keyword stuffing) will cost your site in rankings, so tread cautiously.
- Every page of your website should have unique title tag, preferably starting with a relevant keyword. Unless you are a well-recognized brand, you should not include your company’s name at the beginning of your title tag. Instead, you may consider including your company name at the end, followed by a pipe (|) or a dash (-) sign.
- Don’t just put any keyword in the text of your title tag. It is important that these keywords are also found within the copy of your page – that means the keywords used in the title tag should match the keywords found on your site.
- A title should be under 70 characters long, as search engines only display a limited number of characters. If you decide to make your title longer, make sure that the main keywords are located at the beginning of the tag.
The purpose of a meta description tag is to provide a brief and concise summary of your website’s content. These descriptions provide an introduction to your website that will likely determine whether a person decides to visit your page or bypass it. Therefore, the better your meta description tags are, the greater the likelihood that a person will actually click on your link and visit your website.
There are a few important things to keep in mind when writing meta description tags for your webpage:
- Keep meta descriptions to 155 characters or fewer, otherwise search engines might not display them
- Include a phone number to appear
- Include a benefit or guarantee
- Include two keywords, if possible
- If you are targeting specific keywords, make sure to include them at the beginning of the tag.
A meta description tag should be well-composed, compelling and informative.
Given the crowded and “quick-hit” nature of Internet shopping, it comes as no surprise that it’s best to create product descriptions that are informative, concise and to the point.
Some important tips for creating product descriptions include:
- Use bullets to clearly highlight your product messaging
- Include all relevant product features
- Highlight specific product benefits (how can this HELP the buyer)
- Use your limited space to tell a creative story
- DO NOT use the manufacturer descriptions – your competitors will be using these, rendering your page no different, or more enticing
The following example highlights these tips:
Add Your Product Categories
Categories are one of many ways that visitors to your store can find the products they want to buy.Other ways include:
- Shopping by brand
- Shopping by price
- Looking at related products
- Looking at popular/top-selling products
Also watch the following Bigcommerce University video for additional information about setting up product categories:
Lesson 6: Product Categories
You’re almost there.
Now that a site framework has been established, you can begin adding products through the Bigcommerce interface.
In the following video, Ezra explains the entire process in thorough detail:
Also watch the following Bigcommerce University videos to learn more about Product Options, Product SKUs, and Product Rules:
Lesson 7: Adding a Product – The Details Tab
Lesson 8: Adding a Product – Images and Other Settings
Lesson 9: Options vs. Option Sets
Lesson 10: Building Product Options
Lesson 11: Product SKUs
Lesson 12: Product Rules – Product Level Rules
Settting Up Online Payments
After adding your products, the final step in the Quick Launch Wizard is Checkout – where you configure payments, shipping and taxes.
Bigcommerce is currently set up to integrate with over 70 different payment gateways, but currently recommends either Stripe of SecureNet for the US – Stripe to get started, or SecureNet if you anticipate sales greater than $100k per year. Click here to learn more about using Stripe, and click here to learn more about usingSecureNet. If you’re outside the US or interested in evaluating some of the other available options, read their support article “Which Payment Gateway Fits My Needs?”
You do not need a separate merchant account to work with Stripe, but you’ll have more freedom to take payments online with other platforms if you have one.
Watch this Bigcommerce University video to learn more:
Lesson 15: Payment Gateways
Also watch the following Bigcommerce University videos to learn more about how Bigcommerce deals with taxes and your store’s shipping options:
Lesson 14: Tax Settings
Lesson 16: Shipping Zones
Lesson 17: Shipping Methods – Real Time Shipping Quotes
Lesson 18: Shipping Methods – Fixed Rate Shipping
Add More Info Pages
As we’ve determined in this training, it’s imperative to get the store launched as quickly as possible. But, while products and descriptions are enough to get your e-commerce store launched, the pages that will make your site stand above the rest are the ones that provide a more thorough, complete user experience.
These pages are:
- About page
- Shipping information
- Contact us
- Return/refund policy
While About pages will vary depending on the business, here are some guidelines for maximizing this often overlooked space:
- Tell visitors who you are: People like to buy from people, not faceless entities
- Tell visitors what you do: Establish your value proposition early by showing what your core business is, and why they should by from you instead of your competitors.
- Tell visitors where you’re located: The power of local connection should never be dismissed, even in e-commerce. The idea of supporting a local business (or achieving lower shipping costs and shorter shipping times) could make the difference between a sale and an abandoned cart.
- Tell visitors how you’re accomplishing your value proposition: Reestablish the value proposition from earlier on the page by affirming your commitment to quality product, exceptional customer service, or other elements of a successful business that people frequent.
The Shipping Information Page
While it seems innocuous, it’s important to be as transparent as possible with your shipping costs and conditions. Many carts are abandoned due to previously unseen shipping details. You can avoid this by doing the following:
- Don’t make customers search, register, add to cart or login for shipping details. These are unnecessary steps and clicks that can cause friction for the guest. The only time the user should be required to enter information for shipping information is if it is based on location.
- If you ship internationally, provide a clear, detailed explanation of shipping costs, timeframes and possible fees that may come from certain locations. Also be sure to detail any shipping and customs limitations that may come from shipping to certain countries or regions.
- Keep this information as accessible as possible. Provide links to the shipping information page from product pages and the shopping cart, so they are not forced to leave their shopping experience to learn more. They may never come back to resume their session.
The Contact Us Page
Regardless of what you’re selling, customers are going to want to communicate with you further. Because of this, in almost any industry, you’re going to want to create a contact page worth visiting.
Many basic websites just list numbers and emails and move along. But in most cases, this is the page your customer sees before they decide they want to purchase your product.
Some tips for effective Contact Us pages:
- Make sure it works. Nothing is more damaging to your credibility than a customer’s inability to reach out for help. Be sure email addresses are linked, numbers are accurate, and forms properly send correspondence.
- Make sure it is visually appealing. A contact page that looks like an afterthought gives off the impression that customer feedback is also unimportant.
- Don’t stop selling. For many customers, how you handle business is as important as what you’re selling. Your contact page should maintain the voice and tone of other pages on your site, and continue to support your primary value proposition. Remember, this also serves as a lead generation tool, so be sure to encourage customer outreach.
- What information is collected
- Who is collecting that information
- How the collected information is going to be used
- If the information is going to be shared with anyone else
- What choices the customer has about the use and distribution of that information
- How a customer can edit or correct the collected information
The Return/Refund Page
This is an unfortunate part of any business – on- or offline. Returns and refunds are annoying, but your process doesoffer an opportunity to showcase your excellent customer service, and can have a positive impact of future retention rates, if done well.
So then it comes down to how you handle the returns process, and the better you handle this, the better your retention rates. Some best practices include:
- Making your policies easy to understand
- Making your policies easy to find on product pages and shopping carts
- Not charging for returns or restocking
- Offering clear return instructions in shipments
- No questions asked policies
- Communications throughout the return process
The FAQ Page
A good FAQ page can save you from countless errant calls and emails from confused customers. While this page is often an afterthought for site designers, a well-constructed and thought-out FAQ can benefit both buyers and your sanity.
Some practices your FAQ should abide by include:
- Only feature relevant questions: If it’s not “frequently asked” then don’t include it.
- Make them easy to read: Poor font choice, endless scrolling, or awkward layout can make reading these pages more of a problem than the question that brought you there.
Add Social Profiles
Since the goal of your e-commerce site is – obviously – to make sales, social media presence can seem like a waste of time, right? But, while social media doesn’t usually have a direct impact to your bottom line, it can offer a way to reinforce your brand, boost site and product visibility, and engage visitors in hopes of converting them to regular customers.
Here are some ways social profiles can benefit your site:
- Spreading visuals of your products: While Facebook and Twitter have visual elements, more photo-centric sites like Pinterest and Instagram offer users a chance to pin your products on wish lists … and in front of all-new potential customers you may not have previously reached.
- Create and share videos: Many of your products may have (or will have, if you create them) product demos, tutorials, video testimonials and more. This content is compelling, and immensely shareable, increasing the likelihood of viral traffic to your store.
- Build trust by NOT selling: Most social media users aren’t looking to be sold, but rather for helpful articles, insider features, testimonials, etc. This is a great way to establish your store as a resource for the items you sell, and not just a faceless distributor. By proving you care about your customers’ needs, you are likely to build customer loyalty.
- Build trust through customer service: Platforms like Facebook and Twitter can serve as an extension of your customer service. Simply by responding to queries in or near real-time, you immediately add a personal “face” to your store, increasing the likelihood of customer acquisition and retention.
- Create buzz through exclusive discounts and giveaways: Social media platforms give e-commerce sites an ideal way to drive traffic through very easily implemented discount codes or promotions. By creating a discount worth sharing, visitors will likely find their way to your store.
Check out the following links for overview information about getting started with the social networks for your business:
For Google+ and Youtube, make sure to use the same Google account you’ve already setup for Analytics, Webmaster tools, etc.
Google+ for Business [http://www.google.com/+/business/]
Youtube Creator Hub [http://www.youtube.com/yt/creators/]
As Ezra mentioned, for the purposes of getting your store off the ground, it only matters that you get your basic accounts created. If you’re starting fresh with your business, you might also consider a service like KnowEm to register your brand across all the most popular social networks.
If you’re a Digital Marketer Lab member, see the following Execution Plans to get results fast:
Set Up Your Facebook Page and Get Your First 100 Likes
How to Use Twitter Ads to Generate New Leads and Sales
4 – Conclusion
Congratulations! If you followed the steps detailed in this Execution Plan, you should have an operational, exciting new e-commerce site … and the beginnings of a profitable online business.
Now, make no mistake – you have more work to do. Products will need to be updated, new suppliers will need to be contacted to keep inventory fresh, and your site will need to be maintained to maximize customer engagement. But, the most difficult steps are done – now you can focus on selling.
So get excited! Online sales are growing, as are the number of large distributors waiting to provide you with product to sell. While this isn’t quite a “turnkey” business, your involvement is relatively minimal, and your product choice is virtually limitless.
If you’ve enjoyed this Execution Plan, be sure to see the Learn about Brown Box Formula step.
Especially make sure to check out the Bonus: Brown Box Formula Challenge. Gain additional insight and detail from Ezra as he puts his own course to the test by starting a totally new e-commerce site, driving the first traffic, and making the first sales – all over the course of a few days!
BONUS: Brown Box Formula Challenge
When Ezra first launched the Brown Box Formula, he already knew it was a successful program – it was the same program he had followed in dozens of his own successful e-commerce sites.
He wanted each of his students to know they could have success.
So he created the Brown Box Formula Challenge: to create his own new e-commerce site, get traffic, and make sales – in front of and along with all his students – all over a matter of days.
Watch the videos below to see the challenge results for yourself, and to get further perspective on the steps outlined in this Execution Plan:
Challenge Day 1
- Putting together site
- Bigcommerce setup
- Buy domain name (cheap domain names trick)
Challenge Day 2
- Finish setting up Bigcommerce products
- Other pages
- Installing template
- Payment options
- Editing a product
- Setting up banners
- Additional “more information” pages
Challenge Day 3
- Getting people to the store with PPC
- 15 good ways to get visitors
- Setting the domain name
- Quick Launch Wizard highlights
- AdWords PPC setup
Challenge Day 4
- Advertising follow up
- Mapping products to Google Shopping categories
Challenge Day 5
- First sales
- Dialing in PPC campaigns
- Site conversion elements
- Market Criteria Checklist intro
Challenge Day 6
- Tracking conversions
- Market Criteria Checklist walkthrough
Challenge Day 7
- Wholesale sourcing case study
Challenge Day 8
- Tweaking PPC campaign
- Checking conversion rate/ altering bid price
- Picking an ad split test winner
- Choosing markets through developer portfolios (4:10)
Challenge Day 9
- PPC follow-up
- Pick challenge winner
- USPS tracking email